Monday, December 03, 2007

New HIV Cases Could be Increasing

This report was taken from

When reading this report, we encourage you to consult Revelation 6:1-8.

According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 2001 to 2005 (the latest years available), the number of new cases of HIV infection diagnosed among 15-to-19-year-olds in the United States rose from 1,010 in 2001, held steady for the next three years, then jumped 20 percent in 2005, to 1,213 cases.

For young people aged 20 to 24, cases of new infection have climbed steadily, from 3,184 in 2001 to 3,876 in 2005.

Newer infection numbers set to be released soon by the CDC may be even higher, the Washington Post reported Saturday. According to the Post, sources close to scientists preparing the new statistics have confirmed that rates of new infection in the United States may be 50 percent higher than previously believed -- a jump from 40,000 new infections per year to up to 60,000. The increase is based on new blood testing methods, the Post said, and whether it signifies a growth in actual cases remains to be seen.

Experts say a number of factors may be at play, including the fact that many HIV-infected patients are now being kept healthy with powerful drugs -- making AIDS seem like less of a threat to young people than it did in the past.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Russians, Drug Abuse and Death

In addition to factors (crime and alcohol abuse) that account for a life expectancy of 59 years for males and 73 years for females, Russia is now faced with another problem that is wiping out its population. According to Wikipedia, Russia has the highest growth rate of HIV/AIDS outside of Sub-Saharan Africa. But that is not what I am going to say is wiping out its population. Drug addiction is killing approximately 80,000 Russians per year. Because of its geography, Russia is an optimum place for drug trafficking to occur. As a result, many people are becoming addicted to drugs and dying from the abuse of controlled substances. Human Rights Watch is very concerned about the situation in Russia. They want the government of Russia to improve drug treatment schemes which include counseling and medicating patients in an appropriate manner. The death rate from drug abuse in Russia is evidently just another indication that we are living in the last days of this depraved world (2 Timothy 3:1-5).


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Infant Deaths and the United States

The Associated Press has reported that the United States is among the worst nation in terms of infant deaths. Despite the fact that America has "more neonatologists and newborn intensive care beds per person than Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom," the death rate for infants is still among the worst. Granted, the rate for infant mortality in the United States has decreased over the past 50 years. However, it seems hard to believe that a developed nation like America has 7 babies to die for every 1,000 births. Why is infant death such a problem in the United States? Experts attribute the problem to socioeconomic disparities which affect the type of health care that minorities and other poor folks receive. Despite the bleak picture in the United States, however, Africa has an even worse situation when it comes to infant mortality. In some parts of Africa, the infant mortality rate is 144 per 1,000 births. Could infant mortality be another indication that the times in which we live are "critical"?


Sunday, November 11, 2007

World War II and Matthew 24:6-7

Some people think that the world is getting better. They argue that we are far from seeing the fulfillment of Jesus' eschatological prophecy contained in Matthew 24. However, historians and other students of world events think that something momentous happened in the twentieth century, even if these academics do not agree on the significance of particular events that transpired during the twentieth century. For instance, we read:

"Although World War I has been described as a total war, World War II was even more so and was fought on a scale unprecedented in history. The entire populations of warring countries were involved: as combatants; as workers in wartime industries; as civilians who suffered invasion, occupation, and aerial bombing; or as victims of persecution and mass extermination. The world had never witnessed such widespread human-made death and destruction" (_Western Civilization_, Jackson J. Spielvogel, 973).

Not only were World Wars I or II signs that humanity was in for a drastic change, but subsequent events would imply that we are living in a significant time period. In the future, I will submit other posts that will demonstrate that life in this world is not getting qualitatively better.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Lewis Ayres on the Cappadocian Use of TROPOS hUPARXEWS

One of the most recent historical studies on the Trinity doctrine has this to say about the terminology TROPOS hUPARXEWS as it is utilized by the Cappadocians:

"In Chapter 8 I noted that in Basil the phrase TROPOS hUPARXEWS served
to identify not a metaphysically dense notion of personhood but merely
the mode of origination of the persons. In Gregory of Nyssa the phrase
is more frequently used, but with equal austerity of meaning (and
directly still only of Son and Spirit). What we know of the persons is
their modes of origination and the characteristics attributed to them
by Scripture--as long as all attributes are understood to be those of
the one simple Godhead" (Lewis Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy: An
Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology
, Oxford and New York:
Oxford University Press, 2004, page 359).

Friday, November 02, 2007


My studies have suggested that PAROUSIA and ERXOMAI
are not semantically identical nor are they interchangeable per se.
But I do believe that PAROUSIA, like ERXOMAI, may mean "arrival" in
certain contexts. It certainly refers to the visit of
important personages in the papyri.

BDAG points out that PAROUSIA can mean (1) "the state
of being present at a place, presence" or (2) "arrival
as the first stage in presence, coming, advent."

Sense (1) is clearly found at Phil 2:12 where Paul
contrasts his own PAROUSIA with his APOUSIA. 1 Cor
16:17; 2 Cor 10:10 also seem to be examples of
PAROUSIA being used to mean "presence," though some
think it may signify "arrival" in Paul's first letter
to the Corinthians. See _The New Linguistic and
Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament_, pg. 391.
But compare Marion L. Soards _1 Corinthians_ (New
International Biblical Commentary), p. 364.

BDAG suggests that PAROUSIA in 2 Cor 7:6 and Phil 1:26
refers to the "coming" of Titus or Paul. However, one
can just as well understand PAROUSIA in the said
verses as "presence" or "the state of being present at
a place." See Moises Silva's _Philippians (The
Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary), pp. 86-87. To see
examples of PAROUSIA employed as a TECHNICUS TERMINUS
for both Christians and non-Christians, consult
Moulton-Milligan, p. 497.

Regarding the use of PAROUSIA as a TECHNICUS TERMINUS
for the "presence" of Jesus Christ, I find N.T.
Wright's comments enlightening:

"But why should we think--except for reasons of
ecclesiastical and scholarly tradition--that PAROUSIA
means 'the second coming,' and/or the downward
travel on a cloud of Jesus and/or the 'son of man'?
PAROUSIA means 'presence' as opposed to APOUSIA,
'absence'; hence it denotes the 'arrival' of
someone not at the moment present; and it is
especially used in relation to the visit 'of a royal
or official personage.' Until evidence for a different
meaning is produced, this should be our starting-point"
(_Jesus and the Victory of God_, page 341).

What does Wright mean by the "arrival" of Christ,
however. In that same publication, he makes it clear
that he is referring to the "enthronement" of Christ
and not to his Second Advent:

"For the ordinary sense of 'arrival', cf. 1 Cor.
16:17; 2 Cor. 7:6, 7; 10:10; Phil. 1:26; 2:12. From
this, the most natural meaning for the word as applied
to Jesus would be something like 'arrival on the
scene,' in the sense of enthronement" (ibid).

TDNT makes the point even clearer in its treatment of

Finally, Louw-Nida shows that ERXOMAI can denote: "to
move from one place to another, either coming or
going." Abbott-Smith has similar comments.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Notes on Colossians 2:9

Notes on Colossians 2:9

Robertson's Word Pictures states: "Paul here asserts that 'all the
PLHRWMA of the Godhead,' not just certain aspects, dwells in Christ
and in bodily form (SWMATIKWS, late and rare adverb, in Plutarch,
inscription, here only in N.T.), dwells now in Christ in his glorified
humanity (Philippians 2:9-11), 'the body of his glory' (TWi SWMATI THS

SWMATIKWS: 'in him all the fullness of deity dwells bodily' or . . .
in physical form' Col 2.9. It is also possible to interpret SWMATIKWS
in Col 2.9 as meaning 'in reality,' that is to say, 'not symbolically'
(see 70.7)."

BDAG suggests that SWMATIKWS (adverbial of SWMATIKOS) bears the
potential sense "bodily, corporeally" and probably should be
understood from Col 2:17 "as = in reality, not fig." See page 984.

Roger and Rogers New Linguistic and Exegetical Key agrees with
Robertson concerning SWMATIKWS: "The word [in Col 2:9] refers to the
human body of Christ (Johnson, 310), indicating also the full humanity
of Jesus a humanity which was not simply a covering for His deity
(Lohse; TDNT; Moule; Lohmeyer; O'Brien).

But Petr Pokorny is most certainly right when he concludes: "The
concept SWMA has a further meaning that comes to light especially in
---> 2:17. SWMA is also the archetype (---> 1:15), the reality in
contrast to the shadow and copy. This is the most probable meaning
here, given the framework of the interpretation of 2:19" (Colossians:
A Commentary, 122).


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Immortal Soul in Ancient Pre-Nicene Thought

An interlocutor once asked me,

"Dear Prof. Foster,
I'd like to know when the concept of immortal soul was adopted by early christians and which Church-Father rejected it."

My reply:

The concept of the immortal soul appears rather early in the second century CE writings of pre-Nicene writers. One of the most notable delineations of this teaching is found in Letter to Diognetus 6. There, we read:

"To sum up all in one word-what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world. The invisible soul is guarded by the visible body, and Christians are known indeed to be in the world, but their godliness remains invisible."

Justin Martyr, Melito, Athenagoras, Methodius, Irenaeus, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Lactantius and Tertullian all affirmed the immortality of the soul (see Divinae institutiones 7.20ff for statements from Lactantius). Tertullian thinks that the soul is corporeal, though not constituted of gross matter or flesh. See his work De Anima.

It seems that the teaching of the immortal soul was consistently believed and taught in the early church, though an early Assyrian apologist named Tatian, posited an interesting theory in his Oration to the Greeks 13, namely, that the soul "is not in itself immortal . . . but mortal. Yet it is possible for it not to die."

In other words, the human soul (according to Tatian) is not inherently immortal. Eternal or everlasting life is only possible, provided one has a good relationship with God, who can cause the soul to subsist forever by investing it with the gift of immortality. It is no wonder that Jaroslav Pelikan (The Christian Tradition 1:30) speaks of the immortal soul teaching as a "standard element in [early] Christian teaching" since the pre-Nicene and post-Nicene church uniformly affirmed this doctrine.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Jehovah's Witnesses and Monotheism

The post below is taken from my old yahoogroup, greektheology:

As has already been suggested, I think we must keep in mind that such terms as monolatry, monotheism or even henotheism are all attempts to delineate, circumscribe or define certain religious phenomena that one encounters in Scripture. In other words, the Bible itself never uses such terminology to describe the ways in which people of ancient times worshiped. One can only formulate such descriptive expressions by prescinding from that which is explicitly contained in Holy Writ. Another task, however, is to precisify the relevant terminology of this discussion.

(1) Henotheism has been defined as the act of worshiping one God--in particular, a national or tribal deity--while simultaneously refusing to rule out the existence of other gods. It has well been said that henotheism defined thus "certainly does not fit the universal and cosmic conception implicit in the Old Testament" (Ralph L. Smith, Old Testament Theology, page 232). I would also argue that Jehovah's Witnesses are not henotheists since Jehovah is not a tribal god, nor are other beings recognized as "gods" by Witnesses accorded the same ontological status as Jehovah. Only one Being exemplifies the properties requisite for being identified as God (ontologically) with no qualifications: that deity is Jehovah the God and Father of all.

(2) One online source defines monolatry as follows: "worship of one god only out of many believed to exist."

Witnesses worship (in the sense of LATREIA) one God--not "god"-- and we believe that there are others that can be called "gods" in a functional or (possibly) ontological sense (i.e., angels and judges). But what does it mean to say that one believes there are many gods that exist? Does it not all depend on how one defines the term God/god? To illustrate what I mean, notice what Smith says about monotheism.

(3) Ralph L. Smith quotes from three scholars who all
define monotheism in slightly different ways. The
point I want to draw attention to now, however, is
what G.E. Wright states, as quoted by Smith. Wright
notes that monotheism is "the exclusive exaltation of
the one source of all power, authority, and
creativity" (Smith, page 232).

Now, if one defines monotheism in the foregoing
manner, it is safe to say that recognizing what Wright
calls "subordinate divine beings" (i.e. gods) does not negate
monotheism. In fact, D.S. Russell
("The Method and Message of Jewish
Apocalyptic") writes concerning Old Testament theology:

"There is ample evidence to show that conception
of monotheism was held in conjunction with a belief in
a spiritual world peopled with supernatural and
superhuman beings who, in some ways, shared the
nature, though not the being, of God" (page 235).

I thus conclude that it is appropriate to refer to
ourselves as monotheists rather than monolaters. We
worship "the only true God" (Jn 17:3) but realize that
images of this one God subsist in the spirit realm. Moreover,
some men (and angels) have represented God on earth. Hence,
they also can be called ELOHIM.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Can a Timeless God ACT in Time?

Robert Bowman has recently argued that "Unfortunately, Andy [a member of his yahoogroup], you are making the mistake of reasoning that if God is eternal, he cannot act in time."


By "eternal," I understand Bowman to mean "timeless" or atemporal. I thus suggest that he is overlooking the difficulties that attend the timeless God doctrine. For it does indeed seem that a timeless God cannot act in time. For temporal categories do not apply to a timeless deity. Such a deity has no temporal location or temporal duration (see Stephen T. Davis' _Logic and the Nature of God_).

Moreover, I recently encountered a quote regarding God's
atemporality in a book written by Brian Hebblethwaite.
The book is entitled _Philosophical Theology and Christian
Doctrine_. This quote is taken from p. 45 of that

"The Christian doctrine of the Incarnation, which we
shall be considering in the next chapter, is very hard
to square with the classical view of [divine] timeless
eternity. But so is the notion of a timeless ACT of
creation. For an act is surely a novel realization of
a prior intention, an actualization of a

In a nutshell (IN NUCE), Hebblethwaite is saying that it is difficult
to understand how a timeless, immutable God becomes man or creates the
universe or acts at all. For the Incarnation doctrine implies that the LOGOS became
flesh, whereas the doctrine of creation indicates that God acted to
bring creation into being EX NIHILO. Both notions appear problematic
in the light of divine atemporality concepts. Scripture indicates that YHWH is from OLAM to OLAM (Psalm 90:2). Some thinkers have construed OLAM (in this context) as unbounded temporality.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Historian Paul Johnson on Hell

I would now like to post some quotations from Paul Johnson's book entitled _A History of Christianity_ and obtain your input:

He writes: "Ambrose [of Milan] was a superstitious and credulous man, with a weird cosmology. He distinguished between paradise and the superior Kingdom of Heaven, already inhabited by Constantine and (after his death) Theodosius. He thought, in fact, there were seven heavens. Then there was Hades, where people waited for the last judgment, and purgatory, a place of second baptism or furnace of fire, where the precious metal in a soul was tested to rid it of the base alloy. Finally, there was Hell, divided into three regions, of increasing horror" (p. 107).

On pages 340-342, Johnson's comments are a bit long to type at this point, so I will just summarize them. The historian points out that Scotus Eriugena denied the existence of an eternal or material hell, and substituted "pangs of conscience" in its place. But despite having misgivings about an eternal hell, he refused to believe that such ideas should be taught pastorally. Why not? So that the parishioners would be frightened into serving God by being told that an eternal hell existed (whether it, in fact, did exist or not). This is why "the three most influential medieval teachers, Augustine, Peter Lombard, and Aquinas, all insisted that the PAINS of hell were PHYSICAL as well as mental and spiritual, and that REAL FIRE played a part in them" (caps. for emphasis).

Johnson also reports that "the general theory was that Hell included any horrible pain that the human imagination could conceive of, plus an infinite variety of others . . . Jerome said that Hell was like a huge winepress. Augustine said it was peopled by ferocious flesh-eating animals, which tore humans to bits slowly and painfully, and were themselves undamaged by the fires." In view of the observations above (1) how can some professed Christians say that Catholicism does not presently espouse a different view than what has been expressed in the past, when one reads about contemporary discussions concerning Hell which exclusively refers to it in terms of separation from God? (2) What kind of God is this described by the previously-mentioned writers? What type of God could carry out such punishments? The God of the Bible evidently could not torture souls for eternity (Jeremiah 7:31; 1 John 4:8).

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Recent Stats on Divorce

Time Magazine reports:

The annual national divorce rate has dropped to 3.6 per 1,000 people, the lowest since 1970 and well off its peak of 5.7 in 1981. But marriage is down 30% since 1970, with the number of unmarried couples living together up 10-fold since 1960

*First nine months of 2006 at annual rate. SOURCES: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES; U.S. CENSUS BUREAU

DIAGRAM: The State of Divorce: You May Be Surprised


Thursday, July 19, 2007

God is not the Great Santa Clause in the Sky

The OT tells us that God hears prayers (Psalm 65:2). However, the NT book of 1 John (5:14-15) qualifies the type of prayers that God hears. Prayer that is divinely efficacious must be offered in accordance with God's will in faith (James 1:5-8). Saying a prayer is not like articulating a magical formula. Prayer works because God answers it, not simply because we utter the right words. Yes, the power of life and death are in the tongue. But God is the one who brings it about that the requests contained in prayers come to fruition: it is not magic (Philippians 4:6-7).

Another fallacious notion under which many minds labor is the mistaken idea that God is comparable to some great Santa Clause in the sky. Some persons might be inclined to think that God dispenses answers to petitionary invocations like the mythical Santa dispenses gifts on December 25. Aside from the fact that Santa does not exist, God is not some great Santa in the sky. Prayer is not about what we can get from God, although he does answer prayers that conform to his will. To the contrary, prayer is about (primarily) what we can do for God. It is about selflessness or about expressing our praise and loyalty to God. As Merold Westphal points out (in his book _God, Guilt, and Death_, page 141), prayer is not a crutch nor a "support system" for those who are weak or cowardly. Prayer "pulls us away from self-preoccupations" or "from an easy support system to a risky surrender."

While I do not mean to suggest that it is wrong or unbiblical to request that God do X or Y, I just want to stress that those making petitions to God must approach him with the right attitude in faith. Our prayers must be in harmony with the will of God and we must have the type of faith that can move mountains. As the writer James states, the prayer of the righteous man or woman avails much.

Monday, July 16, 2007

John 14:13-14 and Prayer

What did Jesus mean when he told his followers that "whatever" they asked in his name would be granted? Did he literally mean that Christians could pray for "anything" and the prayer would be answered? That would not seem to make sense in view of 1 John 5:14-15. Furthermore, here is what certain exegetes have to say about the passage in the Gospel of John:

"Joh 14:13 -
Whatsoever ye shall ask - This promise referred particularly to the apostles in their work of spreading the gospel; it is, however, true of all Christians, if what they ask is in faith, and according to the will of God, Jam_1:6; 1Jo_5:14" (Albert Barnes).

How, then, are we to understand "Whatsoever you shall ask, I will do it," if there are some things which the faithful ask, and which God, even purposely on their behalf, leaves undone? Or ought we to suppose that the words were addressed only to the apostles? Surely not. For what He has got the length of now saying is in the very line of what He had said before: "He that believes in me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do;" which was the subject of our previous discourse. And that no one might attribute such power to himself, but rather to make it manifest that even these greater works were done by Himself, He proceeded to say,"For I go to the Father; and whatsoever you shall ask in my name, I will do it." Was it the apostles only that believed on Him? When, therefore, He said, "He that believes in me," He spoke to those, among whom we also by His grace are included, who by no means receive everything that we ask. And if we turn our thoughts even to the most blessed apostles, we find that he who labored more than they all, yet not he, but the grace of God that was with him, besought the Lord thrice that the messenger of Satan might depart from him, and received not what he had asked. What shall we say, beloved? Are we to suppose that the promise here made, "Whatsoever you shall ask in my name, I will do it," was not fulfilled by Him even to the apostles? And to whom, then, will ever His promise be fulfilled, if therein He has deceived His own apostles?

The last quote is from Augustine's _Tractate_ 73.2.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Metaphors and the Son's Begettal

The last three years of my life have been occupied by a study of paterology (doctrine of God's fatherhood), Christology and metaphorology (theory of metaphor). One thing that has become fairly clear to me is that much confusion often arises when Trinitarians discuss the eternal generation of the Son doctrine because they seem to be construing this concept in a literal fashion. The difficulties that purportedly arise from a Christian believing that the Son was not eternally generated no longer exist when the language of Scripture is interpreted metaphorically. God is not a literal Father of the LOGOS or of those who have been renewed by means of his spirit. The fatherhood of God is metaphorical which means that God does not have the matter-of-fact properties that one commonly associates with a literal or biological father. God is not a male, the Father has not literally generated a Son continuously or eternally. Such metaphors help us to apprehend somewhat the reality that is God. See Hosea 12:11.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Metaphors Qua As-If Structures and Scripture

Metaphors deployed in Holy Writ and corporate worship express spiritual truths by means of reality depicting terminology.[1] Biblical nomenclature is evidently “reality depicting” in that it mediates ultimate states of affairs by means of literary similitudes (Hosea 12:11). Additionally, it appears that scriptural imagery delineates reality insofar as it postulates a veridical context of being between God and the world.[2] Tropes or conceptual domains such as King or Father assume personal agency; personal agency in turn furnishes a logical basis for affirming God’s legitimate rapport (= a relationship founded on mutual understanding and trust) with the rational created order.[3] It seems that God authentically interacts with rational creatures as “Father” (Matthew 6:9) “King” (1 Timothy 1:17) or “Friend” (James 2:23). Whether God’s relation to the created order is real or mixed (according to the language of Thomism),[4] each of the foregoing appellations for God appear to be metaphorical “as-if” (als ob) constructs[5] that mediately portray God’s affinity for and sovereignty over rational finite entities subsisting in both the material and spiritual realm of being, namely, angels and humans.

[1] Fretheim, The Suffering of God, 5-12.

[2] Sanders, God Who Risks, 16.

[3] Ibid. Caird discusses the role of low and high correspondence in metaphorical tropes (e.g. Aaron’s beard dripping with oil and family unity versus God being called a Father). See Psalm 133:1-3. Low correspondence restricts how far that one can press a metaphor. On the other hand, God as Father is the Source of life, cares for His people as does a parent, has affection for his people (Hosea 11:3-4), exercises authority and metes out discipline. This metaphor thus emphasizes familial unity (Ephesians 3:14) and the mutual love that obtains between God and Christians. See Biblical Imagery, 153-154. There is a very high correspondence between God and human fathers in Caird’s estimation.

[4] Piet Schoonenberg, The Christ: A Study of the God-Man Relationship in the Whole of Creation and in Jesus Christ (New York: The Seabury Press, 1971), 83-86, note 16.

[5] See Bernhard Debatin, Die Rationalität der Metapher: eine sprachphilosophische und kommunikationstheoretische Untersuchung (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1995), 124-126.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Lonergan on Tertullian

The contention that there was a time when the Son as such was not has caused Bernard Lonergan to question the logical coherence of Tertullian’s Christology. Although Lonergan avoids reproaching the pre-Nicenes for their ostensible need to excise incongruous logical elements from distinct theological notions which they espoused regarding the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he points out that Tertullian’s argument concerning a time when the Son was not in existence conflicts with his fundamental theological case made against Praxeas respecting the three persons.[1] Tertullian supposedly holds that the Son is God as the Father is God. But this does not mean that he believes the Father and Son have every divine-constituting property in common.[2] The Latin apologist is convinced that the Son, being derivative of the divine substance is God (Adversus Praxean 9).[3] Nevertheless, Tertullian also believes that the entity who generates the preexistent Christ is eternal or everlasting, whereas the Son qua Son is not. But Lonergan insists that this position is logically untenable. For if God is everlasting and the Son is God, then the Son must also be everlasting; furthermore, if God is the whole divine substance and Christ is God, then Christ too is identical with the whole divine substance.[4] A claim to the contrary simply appears incoherent, based on the law of transitivity. The logical law of transitivity states that if A=B and B=C, then A=C. Stated non-formally, if Marcus is Tullius and Tullius is Cicero, then Marcus is Cicero.[5] If the term “God” identifies a referent as opposed to predicating divinity of a subject, then Lonergan’s argument seems convincing. However, it is possible that “God” is not a term marking absolute identity, but one that predicates relative identity. And relative identity is most closely associated with terms that philosophers consider “sortal.”

The chief objection to Lonergan’s syllogisms is probably the theory of sortal-relative identity, which certain thinkers view as suspect.[6] The theory of sortal-relative identity claims that it is logically possible for two entities (A and B) to be the same F without being the same G.[7] For example, a couch and chair may have the same color (F) but still be different pieces of furniture (G).[8] Advocates of sortal-relativity thus contend that identity is never absolute. A piece of clay (F) is not the same G as a statue of which it is the material cause. Two entities (A and B) are always discernible in some crucial aspect or relativized with respect to a sortal noun (e.g. bird, dog, cat, chair, star, couch or tree). John Feinberg, Christopher Hughes, Saul Kripke, Peter Geach, Thomas V. Morris and Peter van Inwagen adequately treat the topic of sortal-relative over against absolute identity in their respective studies.[9] While a deeper exploration of identity (relative, absolute, qualitative or numerical) is outside the bounds of this work, this investigation espouses the position that Lonergan’s syllogisms fittingly comport with the theory of absolute identity.

[1] Bernard J. F. Lonergan, The Way to Nicea: The Dialectical Development of Trinitarian Theology: a Translation [from the Latin] by Conn O'Donovan from the First Part of De Deo Trino (London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1976), 48.

[2] What are here called “divine-constituting properties” are similar to what others call great-making properties. Thomas V. Morris defines a “great-making property as “any property, or attribute, or characteristic, or quality which it is intrinsically good to have, any property which endows its bearer with some measure of value, or greatness, or metaphysical stature, regardless of external circumstances,” in Our Idea of God: An Introduction to Philosophical Theology (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1991), 35. The difference between a divine-constituting property and a great-making property is that while non-divine beings can possess the latter, only a being that is fully divine can possess the former. See Hoffman and Rosenkrantz, Divine Attributes, 13-20.

[3] Seeberg, History of Doctrines, 1:126.

[4] Lonergan, The Way to Nicea, 48.

[5] See Bertrand Russell, Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1970), 33; Simon Blackburn, Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 134.

[6] See Richard Cartwright, Philosophical Essays (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1987); Hughes, Complex Theory of a Simple God, 157.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid. 158.

[9] Ibid. 156-161; Kripke, Naming and Necessity, 3; Peter Geach, “Ontological Relativity and Relative Identity,” in Logic and Ontology, ed. Milton Karl Munitz (New York: New York University Press, 1973); Peter van Inwagen, Ontology, Identity, and Modality: Essays in Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press, 2001); Thomas V. Morris, The Logic of God Incarnate (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986); John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2006), 494-496.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Longer Lifespan?

Is the world getting better? Is the world becoming less violent? Are humans now living longer due to medical advances?

While some might be tempted to think that modern scientific medicine has increased the current lifespan for those of us living in the 21st century, the truth is more complex than often heard claims about an increase in the human lifespan.

In his book Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA, geneticist Richard C. Lewontin points out that we certainly live longer than our ancestors who lived in 1890 did. However, what has contributed to our seeming increased lifespan?

While Lewontin's book was first published in 1991, his research on this issue still comports with present-day work done on these issues. Lewontin argues that modern medicine has not "prolonged the life of elderly and sick people" (page 42). A reduction in infant mortality is what accounts for the expected life span, not an increase on the upper end of the age continuum. As for those have reached maturity, Lewontin notes that science has done "little to add years" to their lives (ibid).

So, while it is true that we now generally live to be at least 75 rather than 45 (as was the case in the 19th century), it seems important not to exaggerate what has actually happened. Certain diseases have become non-factors for a number of people and decreased infant mortality. But as history has shown, these diseases can also return with a vengeance. There are many reasons to believe that the world is not getting better. I hope to touch on some of these issues in the future.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Arnobius and Theological Discourse

Since rational creaturely essences seem capable of knowing by means of general revelation whether God exists but utterly incapable of fathoming his essence (i.e. his immanent being), Justin and Philo insist that rational creatures should utilize expressions such as “He That Is” or “The Being” (o` w;n) which signify authentic divine existence.[1] Nevertheless, on this view, created entities cannot verbally reveal anything pertaining to God’s quiddity since to do so would define the Most High’s whatness; the act of defining, in turn, would ontologically limit the boundless Creator.[2] Therefore, Arnobius contends that the only legitimate alternative to defining God is reverential silence: “There is but one thing man can be assured of regarding God’s nature, to know and perceive that nothing can be revealed in human language concerning God.”[3] However, is reverential quietude a plausible option for devout theists seeking understanding (quaerens intellectum) of the deity, whom they religiously profess? Frank Kilpatrick ostensively addresses this question when he remarks that hardly any theist withdraws into theolinguistic silence when referring to the Christian divinity. Rather, theists usually choose to articulate something definitive about the divine one through corporate worship or theological discourse: “As the language about God as ‘act-of-being’ makes clear, some words continue to be used with respect to God.”[4] Deferential silence thus does not appear to be a viable theolinguistic option.[5]

[1] Carabine, Unknown God, 209.

[2] Sanders, The God Who Risks, 27.

[3] Adversus nationes 3.19: Unus est hominis intellectus de dei natura certissimus, si scias et sentias nihil de illo posse mortali oratione depromi.

[4] Kilpatrick, Together Bound, 35. One is here reminded of Wittgenstein’s concluding proposition in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” (Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen).

[5] Compare ST Ia.13.1. See Vincent Brümmer, Speaking of a Personal God: An Essay in Philosophical Theology (Cambridge, UK and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 36-37.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sam Harris on the Naturalness of Rape

On page 90-91 of his Letter to a Christian Nation, Sam Harris tries to argue that religion possibly helped prehistoric humans to "socially cohere" in the past, but it no longer serves this purpose now. He then draws a parallel between religion and rape by writing: "There is, after all, nothing more natural than rape. But no one would argue that rape is good, or compatible with a civil society, because it may have had evolutionary advantages for our ancestors."

I am not sure what Harris mean when he says that rape is "natural." In the context of this utterance, it seems that he is trying to say that rape is part of our so-called evolutionary heritage or that it had certain advantages vis-a-vis our evolutionary development in prehistoric times. I am not sure what advantages rape supposedly had at one time nor is it easy to figure out what Harris fully means by "natural." Once I find out, I will edit this post to more adequately address his comments.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Comparison Theory of Metaphor and Theology

Those who advocate comparison theory generally claim that metaphors “help us to make sense of things with which we are initially unfamiliar by making comparisons.”[1] Thinking metaphorically (according to this model) means perceiving similarities between two otherwise divergent objects, events or structures (e.g. “Man is a puppet.”).[2] Moreover, comparison theory assumes that metaphorical constructions of the form “S is P” condense the locutionary forms “S is like P.” According to the comparison view, metaphorical constructs tend to make implicit or explicit comparisons.[3]

Comparison theory further suggests that metaphors provide an innovative portrayal of reality by combining “a dialectic of the familiar and the strange.”[4] It thereby implies that metaphors are both tools of discovery and lingual stratagems that presage interpretations of human experience in more adequate terms. Additionally, metaphors are iconoclastic in that they now and again eradicate unsatisfactory construals of lived existence.[5] For instance, tropes occasionally militate against prevailing social institutions,[6] their ongoing maintenance and meaning-constituting plausibility structures (i.e. foundations that legitimate socially constructed worlds).[7] Combes fittingly deems metaphors “dangerous things.”[8] They are capable of altering the existing status quo; moreover, communicative agents evidently preserve or slay each other in accordance with metaphors that comprise social discourse.[9] It also seems that metaphors have the ability to shape one’s belief or disbelief in God. Fretheim thus argues that “metaphors matter” when one is formulating theology.[10]

In addition to having a sociogenic function (i.e. metaphors have the ability to constitute or influence societal institutions), tropes appear capable of disclosing that which is ineffable, abstract, supersensible or transcendent.[11] The process of phenomenological unconcealing generally transpires by means of a speaker or discourse agent interchanging familiar and strange concepts, nominals or genera in order to make comparisons.[12] This function ultimately plays an integral role in theology or the formulation of theoretical thought. For instance, the Gospel of John identifies Christ as “the lamb of God” (John 1:29). The imagery that the author employs conveys profound religious truths that are best understood within the cultural context of the Gospel. The “lamb” metaphor evokes images of ritual or sin-atoning practices carried out in ancient Israel. The Gospel of John does not just utilize the metaphor based on natural properties indigenous to a lamb.[13] One also witnesses the revelatory nature of tropic speech in substitution theories of metaphor. The most celebrated substitution theory is that model wrought by Aristotle of Stagira.

[1] Sanders, God Who Risks, 15.

[2] McFague 15; Sokolowski, Introduction to Phenomenology, 171; Duck, Gender and the Name of God, 14; Kjärgaard, Metaphor and Parable, 44-45.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Kasper, God of Jesus Christ, 93. Sokolowski argues: “Metaphor rearranges the potentials of our sensibility and provokes a new way of perceiving” (Husserlian Meditations, 227). The verb “perceive,” here means “any unarticulated intuition at all,” not just intentional activities such as seeing or touching.

[5] Kasper, God of Jesus Christ, 93.

[6] See Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” for an example of this phenomenon.

[7] Sanders, God Who Risks, 11-12. Authors such as Maureen Tilley, The Bible in Christian North Africa, 5-7; Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (Garden City: Doubleday, 1967), 45-47, Lewis R. Gordon, Her Majesty’s Other Children: Sketches of Racism from a Neocolonial Age (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997), 38-39 and Richard C. Lewontin, Biology as Ideology: The Doctrine of DNA (New York: Harper Perennial, 1991), 7 discuss social construction and the role of social plausibility structures.

[8] I. A. H. Combes, The Metaphor of Slavery in the Writings of the Early Church: From the New Testament to the Beginning of the Fifth Century (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), 11.

[9] See “Metaphors We Kill by.”

[10] The Suffering of God, 1.

[11] Fretheim, Suffering God, 5-12.

[12] Kittay, Metaphor, 4.

[13] Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John. Sacra Pagina (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1998), 58-59; Gerald Borchert, John 1-11, 135-136; Aune, Revelation 1-5, 52A: 367-373.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Was Lactantius an Arian?

As indicated above, most historians analyzing the Lactantian corpus exhibit a predilection for the non-theological aspects of his work. They usually concede the graceful eloquence of Lactantius[1] or his patent ability to rebuff ideological onslaughts mounted against the Christian faith; or scholars laud the natural facility of Lactantius to sway eminent political leaders in favor of the church.[2] But not every writer extols the virtues of Lactantius. Notably, Jerome (340-420 CE) and a number of contemporary scholars[3] have called into question his proficiency as a theologian or Christian thinker.[4] Some ecclesiastical chroniclers alternately describe the African rhetor as shallow, naïve, or inept in the matter of articulating sound Christian doctrine.[5] For instance, Hagenbach states: “Unfortunately, the quality of his [theological] thought does not correspond to the excellence of its expression.”[6] He argues that Lactantian theology is “an isolated phenomenon” of ancient Christianity that “has always been regarded as heterodox.”[7] Yet, Hagenbach’s negative assessment of Lactantian thought lacks requisite subtlety and it is possibly at variance with the extant historical data available to modern students of ecclesiastical history. Consequently, there appear to be three substantial reasons for critically assessing Hagenbach’s evaluation of Lactantian theology.

First, one already witnesses doctrinal phenomena in Latin theology that resembles the christology or paterology of Lactantius.[8] Hippolytus of Rome (c. 160-236 CE)[9] evidently thought of Jesus Christ as “a created being to whom divinity had been arbitrarily and temporarily assigned.”[10] Hippolytus in all likelihood does not affirm the eternal generation of the Son and even refers to him as a “creature,” although speech relating to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit admittedly was somewhat fluid in his day.[11] Tertullian also believes that the Son is “derivative” (portio totius) or ontologically subordinate to the Father[12] but he is not alone in this regard, since “Fourth-century inscriptions [from North Africa] if anything emphasize the subordination of Son to Father.”[13] Indeed, few Christians living in North Africa took umbrage with the so-called Arian theology of Donatus (De viris illustribus 93).[14] Lactantian paterology or christology, therefore, does not appear to have been an isolated phenomenon in Christian antiquity.[15]

Second, antecedent to Nicea, the Christian tradition[16] tout court evidently did not supply an unambiguous answer to queries concerning the Son of God’s ontological identity or his putative immanent relationship with God the Father (De Principiis, Preface 2).[17] Norbert Brox recounts that there was no universal definition of the belief in a tripersonal God prior to Nicea, “only rival [triadic] traditions and schemes.”[18] Jaroslav Pelikan has even argued that it may not be advisable to think of the pro-Nicene Christians or “heterodox” Arians as diametrically opposed groups since both movements “worshiped” the Son of God in that Arians and pro-Nicenes mutually intoned hymnic praises to Christ while simultaneously lauding his presumed timeless generation from the Father.[19] Arius adjudged Christ as “fully God,” despite the fact that he admittedly believed the Father created the Son from nothing (ex nihilo).[20] In any event, it seems that the orthodox pro-Nicene party had not yet disambiguated or formalized its doctrine of Christ when Lactantius composed his apologetic treatises.[21] Therefore, it is difficult to affix the label “heretic” to him; the assignation of this descriptive term (in this case) is anachronistic.

Robert Wilken states that orthodox pre-Nicene Christians typically were inclined to believe that the Son is not “fully God.”[22] These early followers of the risen Messiah possibly did not affirm that he instantiates every divine-constituting property exemplified by the Father.[23] Pre-Nicene writers thereby appear to have conceived the Son’s divinity as relative rather than absolute; they considered the Son’s mode of being God ontologically dependent on the Father’s godhood.[24] The pre-Nicenes generally maintain that Christ derives his divine-constituting properties from the Father. Hence, Sergius Bulgakov is exceedingly critical of patristic christology. He contends that “ontological subordinationism” pervades the writings of western theologians in the early church.[25] Therefore, the formative theology of Lactantius on balance is not a solitary phenomenon.

A third reason for not accepting uncritically Hagenbach’s evaluation of Lactantian theology has to do with ecclesiastical formality. In nuce, no conciliar body has ever determined Lactantius’ doctrine of Christ or God to be heretical[26] nor is there good reason to believe that the apologist was, strictly speaking, an Arian (as Hagenbach claims) although he may not have circumvented subordinating Christ to the Father per essentiam.[27] Much depends on how one defines “Arianism.” It is possible that Lactantius avoided being an Arian (formally speaking) by conceptually devising a supernatural generation for the Son of God that palpably differed from the christological origin postulated by Arius. He certainly does not state that God created the Son ex nihilo (Divinae institutiones 4.8.6-10). Consequently, although Lactantius might be an ontological subordinationist respecting his christological orientation, he probably is not an Arian regarding his doctrine of Christ.[28]

While appraisals of Lactantian theology now and again can be stringent in nature, some historians note that he was attempting to illuminate the Christian understanding of God the Father and his Son before the church had defined (formulaically or precisely) the transcendent relationship purportedly obtaining between God, Christ and the Holy Spirit.[29] At any rate, when judged against the standards of his own socio-historical or religious context, Lactantius may not appear to be so inept or heretical since he reflected on God within a particular early Christian matrix or distinctive ancient cultural milieu. It accordingly seems that Lactantius availed himself of theological, literary or conceptual materials that were accessible to him.[30] Hence, along the lines of other seminal Christian thinkers, one probably should evaluate Lactantius based on the resources that were at his disposal: Lactantius should be appraised with respect to the socio-religious environment wherein he lived, thought, and articulated theological concepts.

Having given an overview of Lactantian studies and scholarly assessments of him, this study will now outline Lactantius’ employment of father imagery in speech concerning God. He seems to construe “Father” as a metaphor that delineates God’s intimate affinity for his Son and the world. Hence, it seems that Lactantius does not impute masculinity to God’s inner life. The subsequent portion of this investigation will thus propose that early Christians (including Lactantius) generally viewed the paternitas of God metaphorically. They thought of God as an emblematic Father.

1 See Hans Lietzmann, A History of the Early Church. Two Volumes. Translated by Bertram Lee Woolf (Cleveland and New York: Meridian Books, 1961), 1:174; Otto Bardenhewer. Patrology: The Lives and Works of the Fathers of the Church. Translated by Thomas J. Shahan (Freiburg im Breisgau and Saint Louis: Herder, 1908), 203-204; Marcia L. Colish. Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition: 400-1400 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997), 14; Johannes Quasten. Patrology (Utrecht-Antwerp: Spectrum, 1975), 393-394; McGuckin, “The Christology of Lactantius,” 813; Campenhausen, Fathers of the Church, 64; Frend, The Rise of Christianity, 451. Cf. Jerome Epistle 70.5.

2 Digeser, Making of a Christian Empire.

3 Jerome writes: “Utinam tam nostra confirmare potuisset quam facile aliena destruxit” (Epistle 58.10). See Bardenhewer, Patrology, 203; Greer, “Cicero’s Sketch,” 155.

4 Colish refers to Lactantius’ “rather sketchy grasp of Christian theology” (Medieval Foundations, 14). See Micka, Problem of Divine Anger, 100; Pichon, Lactance, 17; Labriolle, History and Literature of Christianity, 199. Studer, Trinity and Incarnation, 191 calls Lactantius a “simpleminded theologian,” which sounds like a backhanded compliment.

5 See Bowen and Garnsey, Divine Institutes, 5. For what appears to be a balanced assessment of Lactantius, see Robert L. Wilken’s The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God (Yale University Press, 2003), 297. He acknowledges the Lactantian lack of theological depth, but still points out that he had insights that eluded other ancient theologians.

6 K. R. Hagenbach, A Text-Book of the History of Doctrines, (NY: Sheldon and Company) 1:244. While Jerome appears to downplay Lactantius’ skill as a theologian, he states regarding Lactantian eloquence: “Vir omnium suo tempore eloquentissimus, quasi quidam fluvius eloquentiae Tullianae” (ibid). See Bardenhewer, Patrology, 203-204.

Jerome (Epistle 84.7; Comm in Gal ad 4.6) also contends that Lactantius denied the existence of the Holy Spirit as a divine person in a work entitled Letters to Demetrianus that is no longer extant. He thus believed that Lactantius was not well versed scripturally (Quasten, Patrology, 407). For an opposing interpretation of Jerome’s words, see Bowen and Garnsey, Divine Institutes, 5.

7 Hagenbach, Text-book, 1:244. Grillmeier contends: “Methodius of Olympus, Lactantius and an unknown preacher on the ‘three fruits of the spiritual life’ would seem to be much nearer to the suspicion of Arian heresy” (Christ, 61). See J. Barbel’s Christos Angelos, 181-195.

8 W. H. C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 344-346. Reinhold Seeberg, 1:126. The History of Doctrines. 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977), 1:169-171.

[9] The present author recognizes that Hippolytus did not write in Latin. However, it seems appropriate to mention him since Tertullian influenced his christology and Hippolytus was part of the church in Rome. Moreover, his christological thought exemplifies that of the apologists, who did compose their works in Latin.

10 Frend, Rise of Christianity, 345. Refutatio 10.33 ostensibly corroborates this intuition.

[11] Bigg, Origins of Christianity; Jenson, The Triune Identity, 82.

12 See Frend, Rise of Christianity, 345; Gerald Bray, Doctrine of God, 130-131. Adversus Praxean 9 refers to the Son as a “derivation” and “portion of the whole” divine substance.

13 Frend, Rise of Christianity, 346.

14 Ibid.

15 Admittedly, a number of scholars argue that the subordination of Tertullian and other pre-Nicenes was economic, not immanent subordinationism. But there is historical evidence that alternatively favors either side of the argument. See Jenson, Systematic Theology; Lacugna, God for Us; W. Markus, Der Subordinationismus: als historisches Phanomenon (München: M. Hubner, 1963), 171; S. H. Mellone, Leaders of Early Christian Thought, 178.

16 By “tradition,” in this study, we mean “the handing down of Christian teaching during the course of the history of the church, but it also means that which was handed down” (Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, 1:7). The term encompasses orthodox teachings handed down in both the East and the West.

17 See Gregory J. Riley, The River of God: A New History of Christian Origins (HarperCollins: New York, 2001), 81; Bowen and Garnsey, Divine Institutes, 5.

18 Brox, History of the Early Church, 154.

19 Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, 1:200.

[20] Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History 1.4.

[21] Greer, “Cicero’s Sketch,” 156.

22 Robert Wilken, The Myth of Christian Beginnings (London: SCM Press, 1979), 179; Bray, Doctrine of God, 130-131. For a contrasting but nuanced viewpoint, see Wagner, After the Apostles, 112.

23 The expression “divine constituting property” here denotes a characteristic or attribute that constitutes an entity as divine in the unmitigated sense that the entity is (with respect to its being) “God.” A similar expression that Alvin Plantinga employs for God is “great making property.” Hence, in Plantinga’s estimation, God is the greatest conceivable being in that he exemplifies great making properties. See Hasker and Peterson, Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings. This study uses the verbs “exemplify” and “instantiate” interchangeably.

24 See C. C. Richardson, Ignatius of Antioch; Kelly, Doctrines, 125-126 on Novatian. Grant (Gods and the One God) presents evidence that subordination was a universally accepted datum among the pre-Nicenes. Compare R. P. C. Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1988), 3.

25 The Comforter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 9-15.

[26] See Gelasius, Pope. Decretum de libris recipiendis et non recipiendis (Texte und

Untersuchungen 38.4). Ed. Ernst von Dobschutz. Leipzig, 1912.

27 Hagenbach, History of Doctrines, 1:244. See Loi, Vincenzo, S.D.B. “Cristologia e soteriologia nella dottrina di Lattanzio,” Rivista di Storia e Letterature religiosa 4 (1968) 237-287.

28 This investigation will explore the Lactantian doctrine of Christ and its relation to his teaching regarding God the Father in Chapter 5 of this study.

29 Macdonald, Divine Institutes; Bowen and Garnsey, Divine Institutes, 5 (note 23).

[30] Schneweis notes that Lactantius adheres closely to the Christian writers of the African Church with respect to the content of his apologetics (Angels and Demons, 14). This apologetic approach no doubt contributes to Lactantius’ theological methods and expressions.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Concerning Brute Facts

Institutional facts differ from brute facts in that the former are ontologically subjective, but sociologically objective; the latter, conversely, are not dependent on individual or corporate (= collective or shared) intentionality for their existence.[1] They appear to be ontologically objective: “Brute facts require no human institutions for their existence.”[2] Searle defines facts (brute or institutional) as “conditions in the world that satisfy the truth conditions expressed by statements.”[3] He construes “facts” as truth makers. Accordingly, the existence of the Sun or the atomic weight of hydrogen are brute facts that objectively satisfy certain truth conditions associated with locutions such as “The atomic weight of hydrogen is 1,” while “This loaf on the table is showbread” constitutes an assertion that is institutionally factual.[4] More specifically, the utterance regarding showbread is only a genuine datum, Searle would probably insist, if and only if a determinate social group has invested a certain loaf of bread on a particular table with a designated status-function “showbread.”[5] Correspondingly, the rules associated with games like cricket, football, basketball, golf apparently are the result of corporate intentionality: discourse communities valorize these various games by means of “we-intentions.” Vanhoozer contends that sports games are products of human valorization.[6] Their respective status-functions depend on the representational system of a given speech community and its collective intentionality. As such, they are institutional facts.[7] Institutional facts are a particular subset of social facts.

[1] Searle, Construction of Social Reality, 27.

[2] Ibid. 2. See Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning, 250; Pinker, Blank Slate, 65.

[3] Searle, Construction of Social Reality, 211.

[4] The present author is not suggesting that the proposition concerning showbread is only an institutional fact. But, at the very least, the claim regarding showbread is an institutional fact. If Judaism (along with its arrangements for worship or atonement) had never existed, then “showbread” (as it is currently known) would never have existed. For a similar line of reasoning, see Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning, 213-214.

[5] Searle, Construction of Social Reality, 2.

[6] See Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning, 244-245; Austin, How to Do Things with Words, 106.

[7] For a sustained critique of Searle’s notion of institutional facts, see Alex Viskovatoff’s “Searle, Rationality, and Social Reality,” 7-44 in Koepsell and Moss (ed), in John Searle’s Ideas about Social Reality: Extensions, Criticisms, and Reconstructions (Malden and Oxford: Blackwell, 2003). He argues that rational agents do not have to collectively accept institutions in order for them to exist.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Lactantius on Divine Revelation

Lactantius considers divine revelation immeasurably superior to human reason: “Even when he refers to the nature and reason of man, it is always God who must make accessible the way to real cognition.”[1] Therefore, the North African primarily is apophatic in his theological orientation, fervently seeking to persuade his audience that rational creatures cannot immediately apprehend God’s quiddity through the senses or the mind.[2] In Lactantius, one encounters another Christian writer maintaining that it is less difficult to predicate what God is not (quid deus non est) than to predicate what God essentially is. Humans cannot penetrate the divine oracles or mysteries unless the Most High deigns to reveal sacred truth to finite intellection (Divinae institutiones 3.6.3-4).[3] Advocating supernatural revelation over against unilluminated reason, Lactantius insists that neither sensory experience nor human intellection can bridge the yawning chasm that demarcates infinite being and finite beings.[4] He professes that spatio-temporal bound agents grasp the infinite only when God unveils himself to rational agents having pious inclinations.[5] The disclosure of transcendent reality evidently occurs through God’s revelatory initiative. For if the finite could grasp the infinite apart from the infinite condescending to the finite, then divine supremacy or otherness would severely be compromised.[6] However, since “it is impossible for divine thinking to become known to man by his own efforts,” both God’s preeminence and otherness remain unscathed in the transcendent act of revelation.[7]

[1] Van Campenhausen, Latin Church Fathers, 70.

[2] DI 1.1.5.

[3] DI 1.1.5.

[4] Ibid. Compare Cyprian, Idol 9: “He cannot be seen-He is too bright for vision; nor comprehended-He is too pure for our discernment; nor estimated-He is too great for our perception; and therefore we are only worthily estimating Him when we say that He is inconceivable.”

[5] DI 1.1.6-7.

[6] Ibid. 1.1.5.

[7] DI 1.1.6.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Metaphor and the Depiction of Reality

Gerald O’Collins and Daniel Kendall argue that theological metaphors “refer to and describe reality.”[1] Concurring with Janet Soskice, they reason that metasememes speak about one thing in terms that appear suggestive of another thing.[2] For example, God does not instantiate the literal mind-independent properties of a crag, but the ancient Hebrew prophets articulate speech regarding YHWH in ways that appear suggestive of a rock. Likewise, YHWH is called “a sun and shield” in Psalm 84:11(12).[3] Yet, he apparently does not exemplify the matter-of-fact predicates that structurally constitute the Sun or a shield.[4] In these instances, the Bible writers presumably are employing tropes to speak about one entity (God) in terms suggestive of other entities (rock, Sun or shield). Metaphor permits the writers of Scripture to describe the supreme reality adequately, though indirectly. Far from being linguistically insufficient or vulnerable, theological metaphors seem to accomplish what “proper terminology” (De oratore 3.152-155) cannot achieve; they convey truths that non-tropic expressions attributing matter-of-fact properties to a particular subject are incapable of communicating.

[1] Bible for Theology, 83.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Cite the version.

[4] David H. Aaron, however, espouses the view that “historical intervention” is what the writer of Psalm 84:11(12) intends. He maintains that the psalmist (by stating that “God is shield” or “God is sun”) predicates that YHWH literally is sun or shield. While Aaron denies that “God is sun/shield” asserts an ontological identity between YHWH and sun/shield, he nonetheless holds that ontological identity is not the only genuine alternative to metaphorical signification. See Biblical Ambiguities: Metaphor, Semantics, and Divine Imagery (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 57-59. Other scholars, conversely, view the language composing the psalm in question as metaphorical (Schneiders, Women and the Word, 26; Tate, Psalms 51-100, 361). Tate notes that although “sun” evidently is not utilized metasememically for YHWH elsewhere, the term is a rather “common royal epithet” found in ANE texts. Cf. Isaiah 60:19; Revelation 21:23; 22:5 for text that use sun imagery for God.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Tertullian on the Pater Noster

One finds some of the most poignant and significant uses of the term “Father” for God in the work On Prayer (De oratione). Tertullian comments on the opening refrain of the pater noster by declaring: “Happy are they that acknowledge the Father!”[1] Michael J. Brown has demonstrated that the pater noster is a distinctive invocation since it does not contain any sacred epithets (cognomina) that describe the God and Father of Jesus Christ.[2] He suggests that the invocation, when heard by a typical Greco-Roman, would probably have evoked notions of a Roman household head (paterfamilias)[3] or called to mind the ancient patron-client relationship as well as similar types of divine prayers incorporated in then contemporary Greco-Roman literature. Moreover, the prayer may have reminded some Roman citizens of the emperor, whom Romans considered father of their homeland (pater patriae).[4] Tertullian himself probably viewed “Father” as a divine cognomen and metaphor.[5] His exegesis of the dominical oration indicates as much since he linguistically parallels “Father” and “God,” indicating that he believes the former is an integral designation for the maximally excellent being: “Moreover, in saying ‘Father,’ we also call Him ‘God.’ That appellation is one both of filial duty and of power" (De oratione 2.10-11). Tertullian reasons that addressing God as pater obligates believers to obey or dutifully worship the omnipotent deity. By rendering “filial duty” (pietas) to the Father, one simultaneously honors the Son: “‘For I,’ says he, ‘and the Father are one' " (Ibid).

727 “Felices qui patrem agnoscunt” (De oratione 2.7-8).

[2] The Lord’s Prayer through North African Eyes: A Window into Early Christianity (London and New York: T & T Clark International, 2004), 4.

[3] Cf. Matthew 10:25; 13:27, 52; 20:1, 11; 21:33; 24:43. One biblical Greek term for a household head commonly is oivkodespo,thj. See also the entry for ku,rio,j in BDAG.

[4] Brown, The Lord’s Prayer, 4; Eva Marie Lassen, “The Roman Family: Ideal and Metaphor,” in Halvor Moxnes (editor), Constructing Early Christian Families: Family as Social Reality and Metaphor (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), 110-112. See DI 5 for an example of the Emperor being called “parent” or Father. Cf. Tertullian’s Apologeticum 34.2.

[5] Ibid. Lord’s Prayer, 246.